Susiya, a West Bank village under threat of demolition, has now made it into the pages of The New York Times news section, and we are permitted a view of how Israel wants us to see this disturbing story: All the fuss about Susiya is little more than the result of clever marketing on the part of the villagers.
Thus we find a story today by Diaa Hadid titled (in the online version) “How a Palestinian Hamlet of 340 Drew Global Attention.” This primes readers from the start to expect a tale of simple villagers who devised a winning media strategy, and it distracts from the real issue, which is nothing less than ethnic cleansing: Susiya is to be destroyed to make way for Jewish settlers.
High in her story Hadid writes, in a telling phrase, that “the cause of [this] tiny village” has become “outsized,” in other words overblown, as if Susiya, with its population of 300 or so, is not worth the fuss.
The village first got notice when “sympathetic” foreigners visited Susiya some 20 years ago and took up its cause, Hadid states. By that time the residents had been forced out of their original homes and were living near the centuries-old site that had belonged to their ancestors.
Jewish settlers had taken over the original village in 1986, she writes, and Israeli forces made them move on again them in 1990 “for unknown reasons.” They were expelled once more in 2001, according to Hadid, “as collective punishment over the shooting death of a Jewish settler.”
Her story omits a crucial detail: The authorities knew that the villagers were innocent of the killing but used the incident as an excuse to harass the Susiya residents once more. The Times account leaves the impression that a Susiya resident was responsible for the settler’s death.
Hadid quotes a staff member of B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, who notes that residents “have managed to place Susiya on the international agenda in ways that other villages have not managed to do,” and her story goes on to say that “years of advocacy appeared to pay off when Susiya’s residents began warning early this month that their village was under threat.”
As a result, the story reports, Susiya received visits from a European Union delegation, Israeli activists and American consular officials. Then, a week ago, the U.S. State Department mentioned Susiya in a press briefing and urged Israel to spare the village.
The Times story suggests that Susiya has received this backing because of its skill in winning attention, and by imposing this angle on the story, the newspaper is attempting to divert readers from the real issues at play: the fact that Israel’s treatment of the villagers is blatantly racist and defies the norms of international and humanitarian law.
Also missing is the context of occupation and dispossession that is crushing Susiya and other villages. Hadid fails to give any sense of this. She writes only that activists have used the village as a symbol of how Israel “has sought to maintain control over large parts of the occupied West Bank.”
We find the word “occupied” here, as usual in Times reporting, but it is devoid of meaning. Readers do not hear that the West Bank is Palestinian territory; that Israel is there as an invading military force; and that the settlements violate international law, which forbids an occupying power from transferring its own population into the foreign territory.
The Times story makes no reference to international law, but it does quote an Israeli military spokesman who says Susiya “was built illegally.” Thus Hadid emphasizes the pretext of legality Israel draws over its defiance of international norms while she ignores the flagrant breaches of the Geneva Convention and other standards.
Readers can pick up some revealing details in the story: the ousted villagers’ descriptions of sleeping outside “in the wild, in the rain,” the fact that they can no longer access two- thirds of their original land because of the settlers, the expectation that if Susiya goes, other vulnerable villages will also fall to Israel’s greed for Palestinian land.
But the story glosses over these details to present the Susiya’s case as above all a successful publicity effort. The Times would have us believe that the real story here is how the village became an “outsized” international cause, through “years of advocacy.”
Susiya is just one of many villages in Israel’s Negev and in the occupied West Bank where Israel is determined to ethnically cleanse certain areas of their indigenous inhabitants and install Jewish residents in their place. Times readers are finally learning about Susiya only because international attention has forced the newspaper to acknowledge the issue.
The village should have been known to readers long before now, just as they should also know of dozens more facing annihilation: Al Araqib, Umm Al Kher and Khirbet Yarza, to name just a few. In the South Hebron Hills alone, where Susiya is located, some 30 villages are faced with demolition.
But even now the Times can’t just tell the story of a village nearly helpless under the weight of Israeli might, a community faced with extinction after centuries of living on the land. Instead we find an effort to play down the tragedy, to present it as an overblown cause, not really worth our concern.
Occasionally, this writer will read an article from an Israel publication. Often, there is a survey which pops up when he clicks on the article, and the question often is this: ‘Do you believe Israel has the right to defend itself?’
The question is not a valid one. Any nation, one supposes, has such a right, but Israel has not had to defend itself for decades, if ever. Responding to ineffective ‘rocket’ fire from the Gaza Strip is not defense. An occupied nation has the internationally-recognized right to resist with violence the occupation. The occupier is not ‘defending’ itself; it is merely enforcing the occupation.
So why ask the question? Let’s look at the two possible answers that may shed light upon that reason.
A ‘yes’ response indicates that Israel is justified in its periodic carpet-bombing of the Palestinians. The publication issuing the survey can proclaim, therefore, that X% of its survey respondents support Israel.
A ‘no’ response, on the other hand, will be seen as anti-Semitic, denying Israel its basic right of existence. Why, the publication can ask, do Y% of respondents deny Israel its right to self-defense? People would only respond in this way if they hate Jews.
The question, in many ways, is reminiscent of the old political question, ‘Do you still beat your wife?’ ‘Yes,’ is wrong for obvious reasons. ‘No’, however, is still wrong, since it would indicate that spousal abuse was, at one time in the past, something the responder did, but no longer does. So a man who never beat his wife would have no right answer for that question.
So in answering the question about Israel’s right to defend itself, the thoughtful respondent has no right answer. ‘Yes’, gives Israel more ammunition to say that the world supports it, and ‘no’ is dismissed as the response of an anti-Semitic bigot, showing again, in Israel’s view, the great existential threat that it faces.
Israel and the people and publications that support it must resort to such deceitful tactics, since they are without a moral leg to stand on. Reviewing a few facts of international law relating to occupation, and Israel’s blatant and constant violations of them, may be helpful:
Law: An occupying power must not move its own citizens permanently onto the occupied nation’s land. Temporarily housing soldiers on a short-term basis there to maintain peace and the safety of the occupied people is allowed.
Israeli violations: Israel has moved over half a million Israelis into the West Bank, and Israeli Prime Murderer Benjamin Netanyahu has stated categorically that not one of them will be removed.
Law: The people of the occupied lands must not be displaced permanently.
Israeli violations: Millions of Palestinians have been forced from their homes to make room for illegal Israeli settlers.
Law: The culture of the occupied land must be respected.
Israeli violations: Israel has done much to destroy and obliterate the culture of Palestine. The destruction of entire towns and villages, mosques and historical sites is ongoing. In one particularly egregious example, Israel bulldozed the ancient Ma’man Allah cemetery, dating at least to the 12th century and possibly earlier, and constructed a ‘Museum of Tolerance’ on the site.
Law: The occupying power must ensure the safety of the occupied peoples.
Israeli violations: Bombing the Gaza Strip, breaking into the homes of Palestinians in the West Bank at all hours of the day and night, arresting men, women and children without charge, shooting peaceful protesters in the back, cannot be seen as ensuring their safety, and protesting these atrocious crimes does not make one anti-Semitic.
The list is long; a short, representative sample is all that has been given here.
In addition to this, Israel refuses to cooperate with any investigation into its ‘alleged’ war crimes. If, as Israel continually proclaims, it has the most moral army in the world, why would it not welcome such investigations, to prove the falsehood of such allegations? Why not assist the United Nations, and the International Criminal Court, in thoroughly examining each charge, if Israel is confident that each is false?
Of course, Israel knows it is guilty of war crimes, and labors under the mistaken belief that it can continue to commit them, because the United States will always protect it.
Although it can’t be said that anyone has neglected to advise Israel that the rules of the game have changed, for some reason, the information has not been received. Transmission, obviously, does not equate to reception. Today, Israel continues to destroy entire Palestinian villages to make room for illegal settlements; IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) terrorists continue to shoot and kill innocent men, women and children in the West Bank, and arrest without charge men, women and children. None of this is new; what is new is that the world is now aware of it. The news media, which now actually gets paid by organizations and individuals to run ‘news’ stories that are written by lobbyists, corporations, and other major advertisers, has not seen fit to report this information. Massive demonstrations in support of Palestinians in major cities in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East are not seen on the evening news, but that is no longer the only venue for information. Social media gives everyone with a camera and an internet connection a worldwide audience, and that audience is seeing atrocities it never knew existed. As a result, the ostracization of the rogue state of Israel is ever growing, as more churches and businesses divest from Israeli companies, and performers and academics refuse to appear in that apartheid nation.
This writer always ignores the question, ‘Does Israel have a right to defend itself’, and will continue to do so. A ‘yes’ only gives Israeli atrocities a false veneer of legitimacy which is untenable.
Apartheid Israel is a world power in decline, and therefore very dangerous. Yet despite the mad behaviors it may still indulge it, its decline is snowballing, and cannot be stopped by anything but justice for the Palestinians, and the Arabs, Africans and other people living within its much-disputed borders. That day cannot come soon enough.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).
Fresh controversy has emerged about RAF airmen embedded in an American drone unit, which is known to be carrying out airstrikes in Syria after the charity Reprieve gained access to a joint US-UK memo.
Responding to Reprieve’s request in November, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said there were “currently” no RAF personnel embedded with the United States Air Force’s (USAF) 432nd unit based at Creech airbase in Nevada.
It now appears that the response was not given in good faith – while there may have been no personnel at Creech in November, RAF airmen have been embedded there since 2008 and are there presently.
The MoD confirmed on Wednesday there were indeed UK armed forces personnel currently at the base.
If UK personnel are involved in strikes in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, with whom the UK is not ‘legally’ at war, there may be legal issues.
Strikes on Syria would also be illegal given a 2013 parliamentary vote on bombing within the borders of the war-ravaged nation.
The memo concerns the embedding of UK personnel in US units in order to make up for manning shortfalls. It referred to them as “a gift of services to fulfill US air force operational requirements.”
The three-year postings for pilot and sensor operators for both Reaper and Predator drones are described as involving a role in “worldwide operations” and taking part in operations that determine and hit viable targets “in conjunction with the combined air operations center rules of engagement, but always adhering to the legal framework for the operation in question.”
Concerns over the activities of embedded personnel have been under the spotlight over the last two weeks since they emerged after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, also by Reprieve, that UK pilots had been bombing targets in Syria despite the 2013 vote and resulting democratic ban on doing so.
It was later confirmed that each mission, reportedly carried out by Royal Navy pilots operating from US aircraft carriers in the Gulf, received specific parliamentary authorization.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has since defended the operations, saying that UK personnel embedded with allied forces were effectively “foreign troops.”
Germany, the largest and most industrialized economy in the EU, projected as a key member of the continent’s economic, political, and defense organizations, is set to remain within the tight grip of the US, as Washington fears becoming isolated in the international arena amid the rise of the BRICS countries, according to a Russian Colonel General.
Germany, Europe’s most industrialized and populous country, famed for its technological achievements, is prohibited from acquiring its own nuclear weapons. It renounced the nuclear option in the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968.
However, it is among the nations with the dubious distinction of hosting US nuclear weapons, along with Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
The removal of the US nuclear warheads from Germany is a long-term aim of the country’s government. However, the weapons remain in place.
Germany has 3,396 metric tons of gold: its vast reserves rank second worldwide. However, 45% of its gold, worth roughly $635 billion, is kept at the US Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Last year, Berlin announced that it wouldn’t repatriate its gold reserves from the US; instead the Bundesbank issued an official statement underscoring its “trust” in its American partners.
According to Bloomberg, Germany gave up after repatriating just 5 metric tons of gold, though earlier it was told that it would get all the German gold back by 2020.
Russian Colonel General Leonid Ivashov has therefore explained why Berlin is so dependent on the US and is set to remain in its tenacious arms.
“The US is cautious that by acquiring its own nuclear weapons, Germany would become militarily and politically independent. Such attempts have been undertaken by then-chancellors Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder,” he told Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week), a television program on the Russian TV channel Rossiya-1.
“Germany, France and Belgium attempted to create their own militarily-political block, but those attempts have been suppressed by the Americans,” he added.
Instead, Ivashov said, the US is sending more weapons and servicemen to the country.
“The Americans fear ending up alone at the end of the day. Thus, they are trying to tie up Europe, weakening it through Ukraine and anti-Russian sanctions. They flood it with arms, troops and military equipment in order to stop its efforts to break free from America’s grip.”
Paris – On July 12, Greece surrendered abjectly and totally. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had promised to combat the austerity measures that are driving the Greek people to ruin, poverty and suicide, betrayed all his promises, denied the will of the people expressed in the July 5 referendum, and led the Greek parliament to accept an agreement with the nation’s creditors even worse than all those that had already caused the economy to shrink and which further abandoned the last scraps of national sovereignty.
Yes, Greece surrendered unconditionally, as has been thoroughly and eloquently expressed here on CounterPunch and elsewhere. But one crucial question appears not to have been adequately answered. To whom, exactly, did Greece surrender?
A common answer to that question is: Germany. The poor Greeks surrendered to the arrogant Germans. This theme has served to revive anti-German feelings left over from World War II. Frau Merkel is portrayed as the heartless villain. One thing is sure: the animosity between Greece and Germany aroused by this debt catastrophe is proof that the “European dream” of transforming the historic nations of Western Europe into one single brotherly federation, on the model of the United States of America, is a total flop. The sense of belonging to a single nation, with all for one and one for all, simply does not exist between peoples whose languages, traditions and customs are as diverse as those between Finns and Greeks. Adopting a common currency, far from bringing them together, has driven them farther apart.
But was this disaster actually dictated by the wicked Germans?
In reality, very many Germans, from the right-wing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaüble all the way to the former leader of the left party “Die Linke” Oskar Lafontaine would have preferred a very different solution: Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. Schaüble was thinking of German finances, while Lafontaine was thinking of what would be best for the people of Greece – and of Europe as a whole.
Between those two extremes, a German compromise could have averted the abject surrender of July 12, by organizing Greece’s return to its national currency, the drachma.
Indeed, by the time of the Greek referendum, a majority of European Union creditor governments would have preferred to see Greece leave the Eurozone.
The one government that crowed with victory over the Greek surrender was the French government of François Hollande. In last minute negotiations, France took the position that Greece absolutely must be kept in the Eurozone, in order to “save Europe”. French commentators are jubilant that Hollande “stood up to Merkel” and saved both the sacrosanct “Franco-German couple” and the European Union itself by insisting that Greece stick to the hard currency that is killing it.
So can we conclude that Greece surrendered to France?
Let’s not be ridiculous. The French debt rivals that of Greece, with the difference, of course, that France has a real economy. France owns the largest share of Greek debt after Germany. But nevertheless, France is also eventually threatened by the Eurozone rules that are imposing debt servitude on southern European member states. France is in no position to dictate economic policy to Germany.
And that observation brings us around to the factor that has been overlooked in the case of Greece: the relationship of forces within the “trans-Atlantic community” and its military branch, NATO.
The United States has been relatively discrete during this crisis, but Washington’s will is known. Greece must stay tightly within the European Union, for geopolitical reasons. Just look where Greece is, and what it is: an Orthodox Christian country with traditional good relations with Russia, located on the Mediterranean not so far from “Putin’s Russia”. Greece must not be allowed to drift away. Period.
Another question that has been totally overlooked: is it possible for a NATO member country to shift policy in a way contrary to U.S. interests? Is it free to move toward truly friendly relations with Russia? Greece has seen a military putsch in the not so distant past. The command and control of NATO member countries is closely monitored by the United States military.
Since former President Nicolas Sarkozy reversed General de Gaulle’s strategic move to ensure national independence and returned France to the NATO command, France has indeed aligned itself with Washington to an unprecedented extent. With his brief show of “standing up to Madame Merkel”, François Hollande was in fact carrying out the policy of Victoria Nuland.
The European Union (including Germany) will continue to wrestle with its “Greek problem”, while Greece will continue to be strangled by the European Union.
The European surrender to the United States occurred about seventy years ago. It was welcomed as a liberation, of course, but it has turned into lasting domination. It was simply reconfirmed by the July 12, 2015, Greek surrender. And that surrender has been enforced by an increasingly hegemonic ideology of anti-nationalism, particularly strong in the left, that considers “nationalism” to be the source of all evil, and the European Union the source of all good, since it destroys the sovereignty of nations. This ideology is so dominant on the left that very few leftists dare challenge it – and Syriza was leftist in exactly that way, believing in the virtue of “belonging to the European Union”, whatever the pain and suffering it entails. Thus Syriza did not even prepare for leaving the Eurozone, much less for leaving the European Union.
As a result, only “right-wing” parties dare defend national sovereignty. Or rather, anyone who defends national sovereignty will be labeled “right-wing”. It is too easily forgotten that without national sovereignty, there can be no democracy, no people’s choice. As the Greek disaster obliges more and more Europeans to have serious doubts about EU policy, the mounting desire to reassert national sovereignty faces the obstacle of left-right stereotypes. Much of the European left is finding itself increasingly caught in the contradiction between its anti-nationalist “European dream” and the destruction of democracy by the EU’s financial bureaucracy. The Greek drama is the opening act of a long and confused European conflict.
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book, Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton, will be published by CounterPunch in September 2015. She can be reached at email@example.com
TOKYO — Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture Governor Takeshi Onaga is expected to revoke his predecessor’s approval for a US military base, local media reported Friday, citing sources.
Construction plans for the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma to a less populated area in the prefecture are part of a 2006 intergovernmental agreement. In recent months, there have been renewed clashes between the local population and police over environmental concerns and opposition to the US military presence.
An advisory panel is due to submit a report to Onaga by the end of July, outlining the flawed nature of the previous governor’s approval, providing grounds for its cancellation, sources told Kyodo news agency.
Onaga, governor since December 2014 and former mayor of a coastal area near MCAS Futenma’s new location, has previously voiced opposition to the project.
In December 2013, his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, approved a Japanese government application to reclaim land in the Henoko coastal area to enable construction at the site of the new base, 30 miles northeast of its current location in Ginowan.
Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and his US counterpart Ashton Carter reaffirmed the relocation plan this April.
Over half of the 47,000 US troops deployed in Japan are based in Okinawa. Military sites are estimated to account for nearly 18 percent of the prefecture’s entire land mass.
It has no nukes, no navy, no air–force, no tanks, no phosphor bombs, no subs, no guided missiles, no exits, nowhere to run… its people are terrorised, blockaded and exhausted... their homes are rubble… unemployment is the highest in the world and 73% suffer food insecurity… but suddenly:
Gaza is ‘a recurring threat to peace’!
This blame-it-on-Gaza bombshell came in the middle of a House of Lords debate on the political situation in the Gaza Strip yesterday.
‘Hasbara’ stooges present their propaganda ‘facts’
Lord Davies of Stamford, formerly the MP Quentin Davies, stood up:
My Lords, there are five salient facts that ought to come out of any debate about Gaza…. One is that Gaza is clearly a most unpleasant place to live: it is extremely poor and very violent. It is poor partially because of the blockades that have been imposed by both its neighbours, Egypt and Israel, for reasons that may be very understandable.
The second salient fact that has come out and which is certainly recognised all over the world is that Gaza in its present state is a recurring threat to peace in the region. Rockets are continually fired at Israel. After some years, the Israelis inevitably lose their patience…. and intervene militarily. There is nasty military action, obviously with a lot of fatalities.
Obviously. And the casualties (including over 578 children killed and 1,000 permanently disabled) are all on one side. It would be helpful to say why rockets are fired at Israel. But do carry on with your fascinating analysis, noble Lord.
Those two facts are pretty well known. There are three facts about Gaza that are not so well known and which ought to be better known. One is that it is a very nasty, savage tyranny…. Hamas imposes its power by regular use of torture and execution of political opponents: so-called collaborators with the Israelis and so forth.
By mentioning torture, his Lordship reminds me of the grim reports we keep getting about Israel torturing Palestinian child prisoners.
The fourth point that ought to be much better known is one I tried to bring out a few weeks ago at Questions, when I asked the Minister whether Hamas could bring to an end, any day it wanted, the blockade imposed by Israel, simply by accepting the quartet conditions. These, as the House knows, are: the giving up of violence, the recognition of the state of Israel and the acceptance of existing accords, including the Oslo accord. The answer I got was yes, the Hamas regime could, any day it wants, get rid of these blockades. It chooses not to do so.
Israel too could do all of those things but chooses not to. It could, if it had the sense, end its illegal occupation but chooses not to. And why would Palestinians recognise Israel when Israel has said repeatedly that it opposes a Palestinian state? His Lordship’s mention of the Oslo accord, I imagine, is a reference to the then prime minister Ehud Barak’s “generous” offer to the Palestinians. In an earlier speech Lord Davies said that Yasser Arafat, at the Camp David meeting, refused to consider an offer which would have resulted in 97% of the West Bank being handed over to a Palestinian state.
The offer was not what it seemed and the noble Lord was repeating a hasbara propaganda myth. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, seized by Israel in 1967 and occupied ever since, comprise just 22% of pre-partition Palestine. When the Palestinians signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993 they agreed to accept the measly 22% and recognise Israel within ‘Green Line’ borders (i.e. the 1949 Armistice Line established after the Arab-Israeli War and recognised internationally as the border). Conceding 78% of the land that was originally theirs was an astonishing compromise but not enough for greedy Barak. He demanded the inclusion of 69 Israeli settlements within Palestine’s 22% remnant.
It was plain to see on the map that these settlement blocs would create impossible obstacles to Palestinian life which was already severely disrupted. Barak also insisted the Palestinian territories be placed under “Temporary Israeli Control”, meaning Israeli military and administrative control indefinitely. His generous offer also gave Israel control over all the border crossings of the new Palestinian State. What nation in the world would accept that? The map was never shown publicly, and propaganda spin concealed how preposterous Barak’s offer was.
The following year, at Taba, Barak produced a revised map but it was withdrawn after his election defeat. The facts are well documented by organisations such as Israel’s Gush Shalom, which his Lordship might find enlightening.
Gaza ‘the most subsidised community on earth’
Lord Davies concluded his amazing insights:
The fifth point, which certainly is not as well known as it ought to be — because it affects the pockets of every taxpayer in this country, apart from anything else — is that this mixture of unpleasantness, tyranny, threat to world peace and denial is being actively subsidised by the international community to the tune of many billions of dollars a year…. this is probably the most subsidised community anywhere on God’s earth. The European Union makes much the biggest contribution to these subsidies, at about €1.6 billion, and the second largest contributor is Qatar, at about $1 billion.
If we are going to go on subsidising the Hamas regime as we do, we have to ask ourselves whether we should introduce an element of conditionality into our relationships with Hamas.
As everyone (except his Lordship) knows, it’s the Israeli occupation that is being subsidised. And Israel is repeatedly destroying infrastructure built with British taxpayers’ money. Left in peace and free to trade with the rest of the world the Palestinians would prosper.
To think that Lord Davies was once a Government defence minister… It’s no surprise to discover that he voted for the Iraq war and travelled to Israel and Palestine in 2008, expenses paid by Labour Friends of Israel and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Or that, as reported in The Mirror, he claimed £10,000 of taxpayers’ money for repairs to window frames at his “second home” – an 18th century mansion.
He had earlier claimed £20,700 expenses (later amended to £5,376) for repairs to a “bell tower”.
You’d think that the human condition in the Holy Land, and especially Gaza after Israel’s horrific 50-day onslaught last summer, would bother our senior holy men. But apparently not. Twenty-six Church of England bishops sit in the House of Lords. Only the Bishop of Chester spoke up, thankfully injecting some much needed common sense:
In Gaza the World Bank estimates the per capita income to be 30% lower today than 20 years ago. The contrast just gets greater over time, which sets up a huge instability. I understand all the arguments for a two-state solution…. but will two states so closely linked geographically and yet on such divergent paths easily exist side by side?
What I cannot understand from the Israeli perspective is the settlement programme. It is acknowledged on practically all sides outside Israel that it is both illegal and ill judged. In a certain way it is a parallel to the political mistakes in South Africa, where the South Africans simply dug themselves in and could not see the misjudgment.
How are we to go forward? We have to work with Hamas…. working with it must be the future, difficult though that may be.
More ministerial wisdom
As if Lord Davies’ contribution wasn’t dreadful enough, Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office) closed the debate with some silly pokes at Hamas.
We have assessed that Hamas is seeking to rebuild militant infrastructure, including the tunnel network, in Gaza, and we are deeply concerned at reports of militant groups rearming.
What does she expect when the international community still fails to act and Israel continues its raids?
We will recognise the state of Palestine, where Palestinians currently live, only if and when Hamas get to the position whereby it can recognise the right of Israel to exist.
Israel has never defined its borders because it is bent on territorial expansion. The 56% of mandate Palestine allocated to Israel by UN Partition in 1947 was immediately expanded to 78% by Israeli military aggression. The rest of Palestine was taken over in 1967 and remains under the Israeli jackboot. So exactly what are Hamas supposed to ‘recognise’? They have already said they’ll accept a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 Green Line borders, which is exactly in accord with international law.
Our policy on Hamas remains clear: it must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. Hamas must make credible movement towards these conditions, which still remain the benchmark against which its intentions should be judged.
Why? There is no parallel requirement on Israel.
The UK is deeply concerned by the terrible human cost to both sides of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as underlined by the findings of the report. We strongly condemn the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip.
Again, no parallel condemnation of Israel’s murderous bombardment of Palestinian civilians.
We therefore welcome the fact that Israel is conducting its own internal investigations into specific incidents. Where there is evidence of wrongdoing those responsible must be held accountable.
Don’t hold your breath, Baroness.
The United Kingdom has been one of the largest donors to Gaza since last summer, providing more than £17 million in emergency assistance. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, that none of our aid goes to Hamas. It goes via the United Nations relief agency and the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism…. The UK pledged an additional £20 million…. We have now delivered 80% of that pledge, with more to come shortly.
The British taxpayer, yet again, picks up the tab for the wreckage left behind by Israeli war crimes. It’s a paltry sum considering the Israelis caused damage estimated at $6 billion. If it wasn’t for the rotten windows of Lord Davies’ mansion and his crumbling bell tower, we could afford to give more.
Ahmad Sub Laban, a settlement affairs researcher, told Ma’an that 25 dunams (6 acres) of land from Shufat and al-Issawiya has been allocated to the the settlement area to establish a commercial zone.
Palestinian residents of Shufat had been trying to obtain licenses to build on the land which was confiscated, but were denied permission by Israel’s Jerusalem municipality.
Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem suffer from a chronic lack of services and severe unemployment as a result of Israeli municipal policies which allocate few resources to the community.
Over 75 percent of Palestinians, and 82 percent of children, live below the poverty line in East Jerusalem, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
Only 14 percent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian residential construction, ACRI says, while one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since 1967 to build illegal Jewish-only settlements.
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has censured growing anti-Israeli movements in the United States, saying the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign wants to “isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
The former secretary of state called for suggestions to fight the movement in a letter to Democratic donor Haim Saban and Jewish organization leaders.
“I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority” and to “fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel,” she wrote.
“BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict,” she said.
The former first lady also described the campaign as “counterproductive.”
“From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms, we need to engage all people of good faith, regardless of their political persuasion or their views on policy specifics, in explaining why the BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike,” she said.
The BDS campaign, which began in 2005, encourages organizations and institutions such as universities and churches to divest from Israel until the fundamental rights of the Palestinians have been recognized.
The boycott campaign called for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”
In 2013, two US academic groups — the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies — supported the boycott.
The movement received backing from one of the largest Protestant churches in the US last week.
The United Church of Christ’s general assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of divesting funds at its synod in Cleveland.
Clinton also expressed her complete support of Israel if she gets elected president next year.
“Time after time I have made it clear that America will always stand up for Israel — and that’s what I’ll always do as president,” she said in the letter.
After a little more than six months since President Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro historic announcements on December 17th, 2014 that the United States and Cuba would begin to re-establish diplomatic relations, a crucial step has been taken to usher both nations down the path of normalization. The formal establishment of embassies in both countries, announced July 1st and beginning July 20th with the official opening of the embassy of the Republic of Cuba in Washington, will be the first time in 54 years that the two countries will have formal diplomatic relations.
This rapprochement that has transpired over a little more than half a year has been universally lauded and a number of foreign dignitaries have been quick to act. In May, France’s President François Hollande visited Cuba and expressed Europe’s desire to normalize relations as soon as possible and called upon the United States to end the embargo. During Dilma Roussef’s visit to the White House last week both she and Obama released a joint communique saying:
President Rousseff praised President Obama’s policy changes towards Cuba, and the Leaders agreed that the latest Summit of the Americas (held in Panama, on April 10 and 11, 2015) demonstrated the region’s capacity to overcome the differences of the past through dialogue, thereby paving the way for the region as a whole to find solutions to the common challenges facing the countries of the Americas.
American citizens have been in overwhelming support of ending the embargo for years and the latest results of last month’s Chicago Council’s poll indicates that 67% want an end to the embargo. Even a majority of Republicans (59%) think it’s time for an end to the extraterritorial anomaly that is the United States’ policy of economic strangulation.
The Cuban American community has also demonstrated in various polls, including electoral, that there is an ever-increasing majority of those who want normalization between the two nations. Since Obama’s change of Cuba policy started Cuban Americans have taken advantage of executive actions directed at them that gave the right to unlimited travel and send remittances to the island in 2009. In his 2012 re-election bid, Obama won the Cuban American vote in Florida and, emboldened, has continued to open up inroads within this powerful voting block in Southern Florida with his calls for normalization of relations.
As in most aspects, politicians usually lag behind society.
While the president has shown leadership it is up to Congress to dismantle the odious embargo codified in the Helms-Burton Act and also repeal other legislation that are aimed at punishing Cuba like the Torricelli Act of 1992 and the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.
Although several measures that would chip away at the embargo have been introduced in both chambers, there are still many Congress members who take the word of a few “representatives” who espouse to champion the aspirations of Cubans and Cuban Americans as if they truly spoke for these citizens as a whole. This cabal of recalcitrant hardliners is tragically failing their constituencies and the people on the island, whose misery is perpetuated by the pro-embargo stance of these hypocritical, self-serving opportunists. Their continued presence in Congress is something that the 1.8 million Cuban Americans who reside in southern Florida are going to have to reckon with in upcoming election cycles.
Indeed, even when Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) S. 299 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act has garnered 44 cosponsors and bipartisan support, the odds that it get to a filibuster-proof 60 votes is still low as reflected by govtrack.com having put the bill’s chances of passing at 11%. It would need that to avoid the histrionics of Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Each of these legislators have sworn through clenched teeth that they will not allow any gains made by Obama’s overtures towards Cuba to continue and, in Cruz and Rubio’s case, have vowed to reverse all progress made with the island if elected to the White House.
Travel to Cuba has been a hot topic and since December 17th’s announcements there has been a 36% uptick in Americans visiting the island. Celebrities, politicians, business leaders, and curious Americans have flocked to the island. Airbnb’s fastest growing market is Cuba. Even White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told a reporter that the president “would relish the opportunity” to visit Havana in 2016.
However, this past June 18th the House Appropriations Committee passed its FY 2016 Financial Services Appropriations bill. It contains three “Cuba-specific” prohibitions that were drafted by one of the most out-of-touch members of Congress – Mario Diaz-Balart. These prohibitions are a threat to the advancements in U.S.-Cuba relations and seek to effectively end president Obama’s highly successful “people-to-people” policy that has generated interest among all Americans to go to Cuba and see for themselves the devastating effects of the embargo. These measures will also hurt Cubans on the island who have benefited by the influx of tourism and those Cuban Americans who have invested in family businesses and enterprises in a nascent market economy. What will Diaz-Balart be facing on Election Day when a majority of his constituents have already voted against him and his draconian legislation with their feet by going to Cuba in the thousands and with their pocketbooks by sending money millions to loved ones on the island?
With all that has been accomplished in the past several months it should be noted that any or all of it could be sabotaged by the misguided efforts of a few delusional congressional members who have done very little in their undistinguished careers except perpetuate the pro-embargo industry. All the bills and measures for free travel and more commerce can be introduced but as long as these obstructionists remain in office full normalization will be a delayed longer than it should. Repealing the embargo will probably only happen if some, hopefully all, of these politicians are removed from office.
Normalization = Normal
Every day a new group or coalition appears that is in favor of travel and commerce with the island. James A. Williams, director of Engage Cuba and the New Cuba PAC, expressed this in an interview on June 16th on CNBC’s Squawk Box with Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.
MCC: “… There’s really nothing left to the embargo. What you’re calling for is an end to the embargo, essentially, right? Is there really anything left?”
JW: “Yeah, well, there are pieces of.., it depends on what you call the embargo. I mean, what I think we’re saying is we’re not interested in the debate around the democracy programs and some of these other issues that I think, you know, are still contentious and deserve a full debate, but I think we can all agree that trade and travel restrictions need to be lifted immediately.
MCC: “I’m confused, so when it comes to the democracy programs you just don’t want to talk about them? You don’t support them? You do support them?
JW: “It’s just not an issue we’re focusing on. You know our campaign is led by the private sector on its ability to travel freely, trade freely, uh, and have the opportunity for Americans to compete.”
I’d like to thank James Williams for graciously ceding the floor to those of us who have been “focusing on” these “contentious issues” for more than a few months. During the Obama era, it has been imperative for moderate Cuban American voices to defend the President’s actions and to call for the normalization of relations. A number of organizations, with which I have had the pleasure and honor of working, have been at the forefront of the U.S-Cuba conversation within the Cuban American community, denouncing U.S. policy that includes “democracy promotion”, and not working “behind the scenes” as Williams claims to have been doing these years.
The so-called “democracy promotion” programs have ham-handedly put the lives of Cubans and Americans in danger because of the illegal nature of said programs. Alarmingly, these programs have seen their budget increased to $30 million for FY 2016- a fifty percent increase from the $20 million in 2015. Alan Gross’ five-year imprisonment was the result of his activities as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a benefactor of this increase. His wife sued the American government in 2013 for more than $60 million dollars for having sent him “on five semi-covert trips to Cuba without proper training, protection, or understanding of Cuban laws.” The case was eventually settled for $3.2 million a week after the historic announcements that released him on December 17th of last year. When Engage Cuba launched it did so in the residence of Scott Gilbert, Gross’ lawyer, with Gross present as a spokesperson for the endeavor. Using Gross as a spokesperson and then not wanting to talk about “democracy programs” defies credulity.
Some of Williams’ newfound friends (read backers), Cuban Americans who represent the Miami power base and until just recently had poured millions into the pro-embargo lobby, also didn’t want to focus on “contentious” issues like Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism these past six years. So it’s no surprise that Engage Cuba doesn’t want to talk about the “democracy programs”. Nor do they want to broach the topic of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo and the violation of Cuban sovereignty that it represents. Nor do they have much to say about the recent immigration crisis brought upon by Cubans realizing that they won’t be able to take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act much longer if relations are truly normalized. The United States unfair policy encourages Cubans to test their fate with the swirling currents of the Straits of Florida on homemade rafts and this perilous exodus will persist as long as U.S. law encourages it. Will it also be left to “others” to call for the immediate closure and abandonment of Radio and TV Marti, a $28 million taxpayer footed boondoggle that doesn’t even reach Cuban audiences? In short, if it’s not travel and trade Engage Cuba isn’t interested in commenting on it, for now.
Whether or not these supposed champions of “engagement” want to address the myriad obstacles that still stand in the way of full normalization, the Cuban government has, and will continue to call for an end to these hostile policies that violate Cuban law and international norms established in the Vienna Convention and the 1970 Declaration of the United Nations General Assembly on principles of international law concerning friendly relations of cooperation among states.
In an official statement by the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Cuba on July 1st, the Cubans delineated a number of issues that would need to be rectified in order to fully normalize relations:
“There can be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade that continues to be rigorously applied, causing damages and scarcities for the Cuban people, is maintained, it is the main obstacle to the development of our economy, constitutes a violation of International Law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.
To achieve normalization it will also be indispensable that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned, that radio and television transmissions to Cuba that are in violation of international norms are harmful to our sovereignty cease, that programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization are eliminated, and that the Cuban people are compensated for the human and economic damages caused by the policies of the United States.”
So no, it’s not just as easy as saying that restrictions on travel and trade need to be lifted immediately. The Cubans want a normalization that is actually “normal” and not just an influx of tourists and businessmen who either come to the island led by the perverse American provincial thought that Cuba needs to “be seen before it’s ruined” or by the repugnant philosophy that American dollars will fix every Cuban’s problems.
Besides, as long as the embargo exists there will always effectively be a travel ban because there is no infrastructure for all the Americans who suddenly want to go to visit. And, if Cuba cannot receive the international financing that it needs to truly make the recent economic reforms function, then no American business is going to be willing to invest any significant amount in a country where it can still be penalized by Uncle Sam.
After more than 50 years of animosity both nations are going to need diplomatic corps that aren’t hindered by extraterritorial legislation that puts them at odds. There is much work to be done in order for the United States and Cuba to trust each other and if there is a pre-ordained policy for regime change then that trust will never fully be forged.
Benjamin Willis is a founding member of Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) and Co-Director of the United States Cuba Now PAC. http://www.uscubanowpac.com
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, ordered that 600 dunums of Palestinian lands in al-Issawiya, in northern Occupied Jerusalem, be temporarily confiscated allegedly for gardening purposes, Peace Now reported afternoon Saturday.
The misappropriation order was issued using a special municipal law that allows the municipality to exploit an empty lot for public uses for five years in cases where the owner does not develop it. Al- Issawiya locals found the orders spread out in their fields.
The lands in question have been targeted by the Israeli occupation authorities in recent years, when a plan to declare them a National Park was promoted in order to create an Israeli dominated continuity between Occupied Jerusalem and the area of E1. The park is also meant to block the potential development of the adjacent neighborhoods of al-Issawiya and al-Tur.
It is required according to the law that the land owners refuse or choose not to make use of the tracts. When the owner wants to use his or her private property they are allowed to do so in accordance with the approved construction plans, Peace Now further stated.
In the case of al-Issawiya, the owners wish to make use of their lands. One month ago, the municipality uprooted trees that were planted by the Palestinians under the pretext of unlicensed cultivation. Thus, it seems now very hard to explain why a Gardening Use Order is required in such case when the owners wish to do the farming on their own.
According to analysts, it seems that in order to bypass the need to declare the lands as National Park, the Israeli occupation authorities are trying to take over the lands through other illegal means.
Peace Now added that the goal of the Israeli authorities is to prevent any potential Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem by taking over and blocking the lands necessary for the future development of a viable Palestinian state. The Jerusalem Municipality and the National Parks Authority seem so obsessed with creating an Israeli dominated corridor in the area, making use of the law only as a pretext for a political agenda.
“No humanitarian crisis here” say Netanyahu and Ya’alon
Governments should support brave humanitarian voyagers and back their play in future.
Welcome to the latest chapter in a long tale of unspeakable cruelty.
Israel’s military are once more raiding mercy ships on the high seas in an effort to prevent humanitarian aid reaching the 1.8 million souls in shattered Gaza.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Swedish boat Marianne with 18 passengers has been “interdicted” by Israeli commandos 85 miles from the Gaza coast and towed to Ashdod. The three other vessels in the flotilla turned back and another big-hearted mission ended “with a whimper”.
Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon called his operation to deprive desperate, poverty stricken Gazans a “success”. The Marianne‘s passengers would be be deported. “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” he added.
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “This flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting Hamas and ignores all of the horrors in our region”, and he added that a panel established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon determined that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is lawful.
“Israel is a democracy that defends itself in accordance with international law.” He stressed there was no “siege” of Gaza,
There’s no siege of Gaza, no humanitarian crisis? Anyone who’s been there knows Netanyahu and Ya’alon are liars.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition said on Monday that at around 2:00am the Marianne reported that she was surrounded by three Israel Navy boats in international waters some 100 nautical miles from the Gaza coast. Radio contact was then lost. In a statement they said:
We have no reason to believe that Marianne’s capture was ‘uneventful’, because the last time the IDF said something like that, in 2012, the people on board the Estelle were badly tasered and beaten with clubs. Back in 2010, ten passengers of Mavi Marmara were murdered by the IDF during a similar operation in international waters.
“Reckless to travel to Gaza”
Britain has ‘form’ when it comes to disregarding international law and keeping the Israeli blockade going. Back in July 2009, I received a letter from the office of Britain’s then foreign secretary, David Miliband, in reply to questions about Israel’s hijacking of the mercy ship Spirit of Humanity on the high seas and the outrageous treatment of six peace-loving British citizens including the skipper. They were en route to Gaza, not Israel, had their gear stolen or damaged and were thrown into Israeli jails. The letter said:
All those on board, including six British nationals, were handed over to Israeli immigration officials. British consular officials had good access to the British detainees and established that they were treated well.
That’s not the story the peaceful seafarers told. They were assaulted, put in fear for their lives and deprived of their liberty for fully a week – a long time in a stinking Israeli jail – for committing no offence whatsoever.
The letter continued:
The Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons on 30 June that it was ‘vital that all states respect international law, including the law of the sea’… We regularly remind the Israeli government of its obligations under international law on a variety of issues, including with respect to humanitarian access to Gaza as well as Israel’s control of Gazan waters…
Our Travel Advice makes clear that we advise against all travel to Gaza, including its offshore waters; that it is reckless to travel to Gaza at this time…
So, instead of keeping the seaways open, it seems the British Government was colluding with Israel to keep part of the Holy Land off-limits to British pilgrims, humanitarians and businesspeople and implicating itself in the collective punishment inflicted by the Israeli regime on the citizens of Gaza.
A year later the Mavi Marmara was the target for armed assault on the high seas by Israeli commandos, who left 9 passengers dead and dozens injured. The vessel was part of the Free Gaza flotilla. When reports were coming in that Israeli gunboats had “intercepted” the flotilla 90 miles out to sea and threatened humanitarian workers that they would be boarded and towed to an Israeli port, I emailed Britain’s then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg: “Where is the Royal Navy when it’s needed to protect life and limb of the 30-odd British nationals?”
Ministers had themselves received advanced warning of Israel’s intention to stop the flotilla “by any means”, and the British people wanted their government to do them proud and provide real protection for those brave souls in their peaceful mission to bring relief to Palestinians whose lives were made a living hell by the bully-boys of the Middle East.
They were, after all, only doing the right thing… doing what the West’s cowardly leaders wet their pants at the very thought of doing.
Blockade “unacceptable and unsustainable”. So why is it still in place 9 years later?
A few months earlier, in the run-up to the general election, Clegg had written in The Guardian:
…And what has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing. Tough-sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied. It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis.
But Clegg, now in power and able to act, was as wimpy as every senior minister before him when put to the test:
The Government was very clear in its disapproval of the Israeli actions which ended in such heavy and tragic loss of life.
We have underlined the need for a full, credible, impartial and independent investigation into the events… Israel’s announcement of an inquiry headed by former Supreme Court judge Yaakov Tirkel is an important step forward….
These events… arose from the unacceptable and unsustainable blockade of Gaza…. It has long been the view of the Government that restrictions on Gaza should be lifted – a view confirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 1860, which called for the sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and called on states to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation persisting there.
It is essential that there is unfettered access – not only to meet the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, but to enable the reconstruction of homes and livelihoods and permit trade to take place.
It was then — and still is now — pointless calling for the blockade to be lifted. Israel’s repeated promises to “ease it” are purely cosmetic. In 2010 incoming goods to Gaza rose by a miserable 7 or 8% while the block on exports remained. That’s all the West’s feeble hand-wringing achieved.
UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (America abstained on Israel’s orders, according to former prime minister Ehud Olmert) called for the reopening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. To this day there is no sign of Israeli compliance.
The following year, 2011, MP Caroline Lucas quizzed foreign secretary William Hague in the Commons, as recorded by Hansard (29 June)….
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion): Earlier today, Palestine solidarity groups, politicians, teachers and others marked the anniversary of the attacks on the Free Gaza flotilla last year by sailing down the river outside Parliament and marking the launch of a new Free Gaza flotilla. As the Foreign Secretary has previously said that the situation in Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable, will he tell us what further action he is taking to help get the siege lifted, and will he do everything that he can to get guarantees that this new flotilla will be safe from attack?
Mr Hague: We have continued to take the action that I set out in the House last year. We have urged Israel greatly to improve access to Gaza. It has taken some steps, but those steps have not been as fruitful as we had hoped when they were set out. Egypt has now opened an important crossing into Gaza, which may also provide some relief. The answer relies on the general lifting of a blockade of Gaza and on a negotiated two-state solution in the middle east. However, embarking on new flotillas is not the way in which to bring that about. We advise against all travel to Gaza by British nationals, which includes people who may be thinking of boarding a flotilla to go there. We hope that Israel will make only a proportionate response to any such flotilla, but it is, none the less, not the way in which to sort out the problems of the middle east. Such problems require negotiations in good faith by the parties concerned.
Hague’s answer might have been written by Israeli speech writers. He insisted that flotillas were “not the way”. Well, what is? The proper way to break a siege, which the UN itself calls “illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, is surely for the UN to apply sanctions. Failing that, the right thing would be for UN warships to break the siege… or for international civil society to do it escorted by UN warships or by warships belonging to the nation(s) of the flagged humanitarian vessels threatened with piratical aggression.
The proper way for Israel to avoid trouble would be to end its illegal blockade of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the rest of Palestine, and not interfere with humanitarians going about their lawful business.
As for “negotiations in good faith”, when did they ever happen?
A year after Israel’s murderous assault on the Mavi Marmara Hague was making more daft remarks in the House of Commons:
• “Our clear advice to British nationals is not to travel to Gaza.” Music to Israel’s ears, of course, as Hague helped to legitimize the illegal sea blockade..
• “Their welfare [meaning the British nationals on board] is our top priority.” Hague knew of Israel’s intention to go to any lengths, including the use of lethal force, to stop the mercy ships but took no precautionary action.
• He referred to “individuals who are allegedly involved in violence against Israeli servicemen during the boarding”, but failed to grasp that the violence was committed by Israeli storm-troopers dropping from helicopters with guns blazing under cover of darkness in international waters.
• “Restrictions on Gaza should be lifted – a view confirmed in United Nations Security Council resolution 1860.” Bravo, he gets that bit right. But Resolution 1860 goes much further and calls for the sustained reopening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which provides for:
– the reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank
– bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza
– the building of a new seaport in Gaza
– re-opening of the airport in Gaza
When did we see any of that happen?
Hague was challenged by Sir Gerald Kaufman, the straight-talking Jewish MP, who pointed out that any one of the 37 UK citizens might have been killed when the Israelis “committed a war crime of piracy in international waters, kidnapping and murder—and all in pursuit of upholding an illegal blockade on Gaza that amounts to collective punishment…” He asked Mr Hague for his assurance that further steps would be taken if the Israelis failed to comply with the modest request that had been made.
But Hague sidestepped, saying: “It is our strong advice to British nationals, as it has been in the past and will be in the future, not to travel to Gaza — let me make that absolutely clear — as they would be going into a dangerous situation, but it is absolutely wrong to maintain the blockade.”
MP Jeremy Corbyn asked if it wasn’t time for sanctions such as revoking the EU-Israel trade agreement. Hague replied that he did not think imposing sanctions was the right policy either – but gave no reason.
MP Frank Dobson suggested that Britain and the other European members of NATO should give naval protection if another flotilla were to set off for Gaza, with the Royal Navy reverting to its traditional role of protecting the freedom of the seas. Hague dismissed this too.
As usual, no consequences for Israel’s crimes were contemplated. And the Government chicken coop happily clucked its approval as Hague handed the Israelis total victory. Today, five years on, Israel is making the same threats and committing the same acts of piracy against the latest flotilla.
Legal or not?
Israel’s naval blockade is illegal and so was Israel’s interception of the Mavi Marmara and other Gaza-bound vessels in international waters in May 2010. So said the United Nations fact-finding mission set up by the Human Rights Council.
The Mission’s team, chaired by Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, QC, a retired Judge of the International Criminal Court, reported they were “satisfied that the blockade was inflicting disproportionate damage upon the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and that as such the interception could not be justified and therefore has to be considered illegal…
The Mission considers that one of the principal motives behind the imposition of the blockade was a desire to punish the people of the Gaza Strip for having elected Hamas. The combination of this motive and the effect of the restrictions on the Gaza Strip leave no doubt that Israel’s actions and policies amount to collective punishment as defined by international law… No case can be made for the legality of the interception and the Mission therefore finds that the interception was illegal.
That wasn’t all. The naval blockade was implemented in support of the overall closure regime.
As such it was part of a single disproportionate measure of armed conflict and as such cannot itself be found proportionate. Furthermore, the closure regime is considered by the Mission to constitute collective punishment of the people living in the Gaza Strip and thus to be illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Intercepting the Mavi Marmara on the high seas was “clearly unlawful” and could not be justified even under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations [the right of self-defence].
The Centre for Constitutional Rights also concluded that the Israeli blockade was illegal under international law:
Due both to the legal nature of Israel’s relationship to Gaza – that of occupier – and the impact of the blockade on the civilian population, amounting to ‘collective punishment’, the blockade cannot be reconciled with the principles of international law, including international humanitarian law. It is recalled that the international community, speaking through both the United Nations and individual States, has repeatedly and emphatically called for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The flotilla did not seek to travel to Israel, let alone ‘attack’ Israel. Furthermore, the flotilla did not constitute an act which required an ‘urgent’ response, such that Israel had to launch a middle-of-the-night armed boarding… Israel could also have diplomatically engaged Turkey, arranged for a third party to verify there were no weapons onboard and then peacefully guided the vessel to Gaza.
Craig Murray was Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and responsible for giving political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in enforcement of the UN authorised blockade against Iraqi weapons shipments. He is therefore an internationally recognized authority on these matters. Referring to the participation of an American boat he said:
Right of free passage is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which the United States is a full party. Any incident which takes place upon a US flagged ship on the High Seas is subject to United States legal jurisdiction. A ship is entitled to look to its flag state for protection from attack on the High Seas…
Israel has declared a blockade on Gaza and justified previous fatal attacks on neutral civilian vessels on the High Seas in terms of enforcing that embargo, under the legal cover given by the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. There are however fundamental flaws in this line of argument. It falls completely on one fact alone. San Remo only applies to blockade in times of armed conflict. Israel is not currently engaged in an armed conflict, and presumably does not wish to be. San Remo does not confer any right to impose a permanent blockade outwith times of armed conflict, and in fact specifically excludes as illegal a general blockade on an entire population.
Sporadic attacks from Gaza did not come close to reaching the bar of armed conflict that would trigger the right to impose a naval blockade, he said. When the UK suffered continued terrorist attack from the IRA (Irish Republican Army), sustaining many more deaths than anything Israel has suffered in recent years from Gaza, it would have been ridiculous to argue that the UK had a right to mount a general naval blockade of the Republic of Ireland.
The EU Commission declared that “all those wishing to deliver goods to Gaza should do so through established channels”. The “established channel” for delivering goods to Gaza is, of course, the time-honoured route by sea, which is protected by maritime and international law. Flotilla organizers have offered their cargoes for inspection and verification by a trusted third party to allay Israel’s fears about weapon supplies. They should not have to deal direct with the belligerent regime that’s cruelly turning the screws on civilians with an illegal blockade. Anyone suggesting they must hand over their cargo to the aggressor seeks to legitimize the blockade, which we all know to be illegal and a crime against humanity.
Quite simply, an attack on civilian ships carrying humanitarian assistance to Gaza cannot be justified by the existence of a blockade that violates international law. So Israel doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Nor does the cowardly British Government. Nor do the 80 percent of Conservative MPs and MEPs who, for whatever dark reasons, love and adore the abhorrent Israeli regime and the war criminals who run it. Therefore “all good men and true” should rally to support those brave humanitarian voyagers and ensure their governments back their play in future.